[ To Express, To Reflect, To Give Back ]

Run your own race in life and definitely write about it too!

Friday, March 4th, 2011

One of my cousins sent me an email a couple of days ago…

…I couldn’t stop myself from ending with these couple of lines:- Every time I think of you, am amazed at how a once shy and recluse Sudhar turned things around and unfurled himself to become who you are today! And that’s no joke…you’ve made it up all by yourself! I bet you should start writing an autobio…

I was on cloud nine by the time I was done reading the email! Those kind of words always fan one’s ego.

Thankfully, only a few weeks earlier, I had read the NYTimes article “The Problem With Memoirs” – I even tweeted that “Half the people in America seem to be writing a book, especially memoir. The other half could care less. No wonder Borders B&N are bankrupt”.

That article was somewhat unnecessarily brutal. Yet, it was a timely reminder on a couple of fronts. I like to call out a few things from it, for my own sake:

That you had parents and a childhood does not of itself qualify you to write a memoir. A vast majority of people used to live lives that would draw a C or a D if grades were being passed out — not that they were bad lives, just bland.

That’s what happens when immature writers write memoirs: they don’t realize that an ordeal, served up without perspective or perceptiveness, is merely an ordeal.

I ask myself, Did I have a life that would pass a A grade? Likely No.

Did I have any ordeals that offers a perspective? Probably. Is it unique? Likely No.

It is probably fair to conclude that a nobody like me should not publish a memoir.

But hang on. I say publish not write.

As William Zinsser argues in this fitting rebuttal to the NYTimes article, every self respecting soul has The Right to Write. Here is a gist of what Zinsser had to say – which is exactly what I had concluded myself after reading Neil Genzlinger’s rant in NYTimes.

All of us earn that right by being born; one of the deepest human impulses is to leave a record of what we did and what we thought and felt on our journey. The issue here is not whether so many bad memoirs should be written. It’s whether they should be published–let’s put the blame where it belongs–and whether, once published, they should be reviewed.

Run your own Race (Source: kaboodle.com)

Zinsser, as some of you may know, is one of my teachers and role models in writing – so I trust his opinion more than Genzlinger’s. I do wonder if the inkling to leave a legacy is true for every person. May be it is and manifests in many ways, not the least of which is an effort to write a memoir, that too published & in rare cases, end up as best sellers!

All of this reminds me of the phrase “Run your own race”. Every life is a story unfolding – a story you create, whether that story is told, written or read by others doesn’t matter. What matters is we live our life the best we can. Let’s be a hero to ourselves first. Being our own hero or a hero to our own small circle of people is in itself worthy of our efforts. That my cousin was “amazed” by my life thus far or that I inspire a few from my little circle of friends and family is all I need to eventually rest in peace.

We can save the trees and the publishers. Of course, we can give a break to some bored NYTimes book reviewers too.

Reading to be a Writer

Thursday, February 17th, 2011

God knows I want to write more. This blog has been virtually haunting me everyday to do so.

Of late, I have been reading more and practically stopped writing. Except, of course, writing at work. Which doesn’t count in my books as the same writing in this blog.

Perhaps it was the haunting or an intuitive attraction to certain books, I have been heads down reading books about writing. Two of them I highly recommend for anyone, who first wants to read good books, and second, have tender hopes to write – even if its in private.

As it usually happens, I stumbled upon during my usual wanderings in the library, a fantastic book by Francine Prose’s “Reading Like a Writer” (A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them). I ended up overwhelmingly proud of myself for finding this book, rather serendipitously, that I just ordered a used copy of this book to own for life. She dissects some of her favorite books and authors on how they have chosen and written certain words, sentences, characters and story lines. Prose, herself a versatile writer, takes a back seat as a humble reader, to bring to light some of the fascinating writings across English literature. I, for one, have not even heard of most of the writers she mentions. That’s a blessing and curse. Why Curse? May be that’s harsh, but I curse myself because I don’t have the breadth of reading to know many of them. Every writer she brings forth is typically an accomplished person, but one must be a omnivorous (I picked up that word from her book!) reader to have come across all of these authors. Why Blessing? Indeed, because now I know who I can read if I ever run out of books to read. But, hold on, running out of books to read? that ain’t happening baby!

The second book is one I own and go back to every so often. Especially when the demon in me occasionally shows up in deep sleep, only to remind me that all I can do is read, read and just read even more but can’t get my ass to write more! I have previously written about William Zinsser. His most popular book, On Writing Well, is worth every dollar (though you can buy a used one for pennies!) not so much for writing instructions but to be a constant reminder that simple writing and especially writing well, is absolutely doable, be it painful. See, Zinsser is not one of the greatest writers, but he is one of the common, but good writers who exactly reinforces my confidence that I can be one too. If you are interested, Zinsser writes a weekly blog, “Zinsser on Friday”.

I want to write, simply for the purpose of expressing myself in a simple yet coherent way. Besides, as both Zissner and Prose constantly remind throughout these two books, writing well is all about rewriting. It’s not about writing more. It’s not about writing with fashionable and Shakespearean words. It’s about writing and rewriting and immersing ourselves in the pleasure of toying with simple words and sentences, literally crafting it, to get the point across in its most economical, smooth and simplest way.

On the other hand, Prose’s book at times made me wonder how in the world could someone come up with such fantastic writing. She brings to our attention writings by Samuel Johnson, that is so good to the extent of wiping off all my confidence that even I can craft great sentences. I mean, seriously, Samuel Johnson must have been a genius, if he naturally had the flair for such writing.

Here is a glimpse into fantastically crafted paragraph from The Life of Savage, By Samuel Johnson

It has been observed in all ages that the advantages of nature or of fortune have contributed very little to the promotion of happiness; and that those whom the splendour of their rank or the extent of their capacity have placed upon the summits of human life, have not often given any just occasion to envy in those who look up to them from a lower station: whether it be that apparent superiority incites great designs, and great designs are naturally liable to fatal miscarriages; or that the general lot of mankind is misery, and the misfortunes of those whose eminence drew upon them an universal attention have been more carefully recorded, because they were more generally observed, and have in reality been only more conspicuous than those of others, not more frequent, or more severe.

To be clear, I didn’t completely understand the entire meaning in one pass. I must have read it a few times before I digested his point. Perhaps, I am not used to this type of sophisticated 20th century writing, but, every time I read, I pause on certain places, just to wonder about what must have gone through his mind when he wrote those words – “splendour of their rank”. To imagine writers of past have hand written or typed all their writings is unfathomable. I am only glad I didn’t have to hand write my writings – would absolutely end up with no hope for any aspirations to be writer.